A sit-down with Sir Millard Mulch
Without name recognition, touring or previous best-selling albums, he’s a relative nobody in the rock world – a part-time graphic designer recording his work in his mother’s house between her cries for him to “go and get all that Taco Bell garbage out of my car.” Yet his latest album, How to Sell the Whole F#@!ing Universe to Everbody...Once and For All!, features appearances by serious musical somebodies, from Virgil Donati (drummer for Steve Vai) to Nick D’Virgilio (Tears for Fears), among others. And in an industry where underground credibility is considered the most valuable cultural capital, Mulch has no interest in indie buzz.
Sir Millard Mulch is in the body shop. The virtuoso guitarist/keyboardist/percussionist progressive rocker probably tools around his Florida hometown in a Rob Zombie “Dragula”-style Munster-mobile, and I hope he’s adding evil smiley-face headlights. Or trading in his driver’s seat for a throne of skulls. Or at least that he’s getting his Toyota tuned.
“Oh, no,” he says. “I’m in The Body Shop. In Sarasota Square Mall.”
“You know... smelly things and stuff you wash your self with.”
“The ‘underground mainstream’ is sort of
a false dichotomy,” he says. “The popular mainstream... I feel that is the battlefield.
I believe my creations need to be there.”
Like many of his progressive rock colleagues, Mulch wasn’t always enthusiastic about the mainstream. But a six-week stint in 2003 with what Mulch calls “really intense telesales” triggered a nervous breakdown.
"It pushed me over the edge,” Mulch says of the sales job. “It ruined whatever was in me, so I was then empty.”
Rather than escape the subject, Mulch delved deep into the source of his emptiness. He devoured sales and business books, underlining and highlighting entire pages of “you can do it” tomes and listening to 30-day Tony Robbins inspirational CD sets. In his searching, Mulch discovered something: Living like a scummy artist is exactly like starting your own business.
“It was like when Luke Skywalker’s in the swamp, and he sees Darth Vader’s head,” Mulch says. “I discovered that the pop world is where I actually need to be.”
That revelation led Mulch on a two-year odyssey of shut-in recording and writing that culminated with How to Sell..., the multi-disc “magnum opus” and accompanying 222-page book that seems to satirize all things commercial in tracks like “How to Quit Your Job and Make Millions!” and “The Best Job in the World (Sales Is).” There’s even a third disc titled “Journey To The Underworld of Buyer’s Remorse” that isn’t even a real CD; it’s a CD-shaped clear piece of plastic that won’t play. And while it’s clear that most of the album is as cynical as it seems, Mulch insists that his enchantment with sales and marketing is in some way earnest.
“Becoming a successful artist parallels being an entrepreneur,” Mulch says. “You’re trying to make something that wasn’t there, and trying to make it successful. And you have to take that leap of faith.”
That the album’s message is not completely satirical is nowhere as unexpected as its sound. On an album featuring artists who have worked with acts such as Steve Vai, Tears for Fears and Devin Townsend – a man who once concluded his live metal show by imploring his audience to “Suck a turd to a point, then stab yourself” – you expect sweeping, 25-minute tracks of mythological alien stories shrieked over lightning-fast metal guitars and mind-melting synthesizer play. And while the instrumental virtuosity is there (and the mythology makes an appearance), Mulch offers a surprisingly un-metal sound with vocal stylings reminiscent of They Might Be Giants.
"You’ve got a lot of mainstream music, and then you’ve got Steve Vai,” Mulch says. “I want to take They Might Be Giants and have Devin Townsend-style bands understand it, rather than shoving it down their throats. I don’t see why all these things can’t be mashed together.”
And while Mulch’s mash-up of all things musical and sales may be a masterpiece, a two hour album of spoken word marketing diatribes, nine-part guitar and drum solo tracks, and cut-ups of both Creed and Styx that is at times unlistenable and is unquestionably unperformable does not lend itself to mainstream consumption. But Mulch doesn’t mind. For him, the album represents a turning point, both as an artist and a person.
“It was a necessary step in the destruction of myself, destroying everything I believed,” Mulch says. “I see it as an end and a beginning, a stepping stone to something bigger.”
Of course, where that stone steps is unclear. Because his intricate instrumentation would require virtually unlimited resources to perform, Sir Millard has cancelled the live tour he’d scheduled to promote the album (“Most of the Sir Millard Mulch live shows have consisted of me standing in front of a microphone and experiencing technical difficulties.”). Instead, Mulch hopes the album will create a buzz such that he might catch on with a major label band, as he did with a dubious stint as a guest keyboardist for Ween.
“Every time Mickey or Aaron would say, ‘We’re Ween,’ I would say, ‘And I’m Sir Millard Mulch!,’” Mulch recounts on his website. “Then when they’d say, ‘This song is called _______ by Ween,’ I would say, “And Sir Millard Mulch is playing keyboards on it!’”
No bands have since taken a chance on hiring Mulch – “Sociopathic entrepreneurs make terrible employees, as we can see from previous experience,” he says – but he remains hopeful. In the meantime, Mulch has been trying to readjust to the outside world after two years of seclusion. You know, getting out of the house. To places like The Body Shop.
“It’s sort of a weird transition for someone who was going insane, living in filth and eating ramen while writing a book and recording,” he says. “You come off a bit clumsy and awkward.”
“It’s also pretty hard to find a girlfriend,” Mulch says. “And Jennifer and Jessica [Body Shop employees] don’t really dig the Sir Millard Mulch ‘thing.’ So if you can help me with that.”